Onboarding preceptors is a complex task
Marissa Langett oversees the massive undertaking
It might look simple on the surface. A licensed pharmacist or a healthcare agency agrees to host School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences students for their Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experiences (IPPEs) and/or Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences (APPEs), and the students complete their clinical rotations, fulfilling their requirements to graduate.
But for students to get to that point is actually a massive undertaking, starting with an affiliation agreement with the preceptor site.
“The first step is always at the site level and the most difficult part,” according to Marissa Langett, experiential specialist with the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (SOPPS) Office of Experiential Education. It’s her job to complete all the behind-the-scenes work that is required when establishing a preceptor site.
“It starts with getting in touch with the decision maker to see if there’s an interest in taking on the legal responsibility,” she said. “We have an affiliation agreement template for community pharmacies, which tend to go pretty quickly. System agreements tend to take longer. The agreements cover things including liability, insurance, FERPA and HIPAA.
“Once a site is situated, it’s a pretty simple affair,” Langett added. “The online form for new preceptors provides us with everything we need for human resources and accreditation standards: where they’re located, the type of site and licensing information, the preceptor’s CV. We check to make sure they fit our minimums. Then I run the initial availability application and send the information out through CORE ELMS, our rotation management software, with general asks.
“I might explain that SOPPS has two 80-hour rotations in the fall and this is what we’re looking for, let us know if you’re interested in taking students. They can respond in CORE ELMS or email me directly,” she said. “CORE ELMS is amazing but can be overwhelming, so I make sure preceptors are comfortable using it.
“We also confirm that all of our students are up to date on their health requirements, and whatever additional requirements a system such as a hospital or medical center may have beyond our guidelines,” she added.
Potential preceptors can indicate interest in a number of ways. “Either the director of pharmacy will give out our preceptor application form online and that lets us know they’re interested, or we might reach out to individual preceptors,” Langett said. “Sometimes students will give us info as well. They’re great referrers! We’re pretty well connected locally, but a lot of our students are from other areas so they have connections back home that we can explore and help them with so they can go home during the summer or during their six-week rotations in their last year.”
The entire process is eased through use of CORE ELMS. “It is fantastic!” Langett said. “We have about 500 individual sites and everything we do, all of the information, lives in CORE, which makes communication easier. It lets us see what’s available and timeframes. Students can look at the onboarding documents and see more about the site in general. A lot of our preceptors have put in information.”
Langett said that CORE ELMS also assists in the evaluation process, which is a boon when as many as 300 students might be on rotation at any given time.
“CORE ELMS has evaluations for the student to fill out for the preceptor as well as assignments and checklists, and allows the preceptors to evaluate our students based on ACPE standards,” Langett said. “Students also have to track their hours. For the first P1 through P3 years, each rotation averages approximately 80 hours, and during a student’s final year of APPEs, they are 240 hours. All hours need to be tracked and confirmed by preceptors.
With the work involved, it’s important to remember that Binghamton’s preceptors are volunteers, Langett added. There are benefits for them, but one major reason they sign up is to give back to their profession. “They’re fostering new pharmacists as they were fostered themselves, and giving back for what they learned.”
Preceptors are also entered into Binghamton University’s human resources system as volunteer adjuncts so they receive a Binghamton email address, access to Libraries, discounts at the East Gym and sporting events and an ID card. “Outside of that, working with SOPPS allows pharmacists to be connected to the curriculum and grow the profession,” Langett said. “They also have opportunities like student capstone projects where they can work with a student or students on a project to do the research and the analysis. This gives them a team to help them design their studies and they might end up publishing results. It’s often quality improvement research so the students are benefiting the site as well.”
Preceptors are also offered free continuing education modules through the Office of Experiential Education, and benefit from continuing education sessions that are sponsored by the Office of Experiential Education and/or in collaboration with other schools/colleges of pharmacy throughout the state. Continuing education is necessary for all pharmacists to maintain active licensure to practice pharmacy.
For students, it’s a good idea to treat their rotations as long-term job interviews and to start making connections in the pharmacy world, Langett said. “Pharmacy is really small. Someone’s mentor was a student of someone else’s mentor. We’ll find that a student who having their first opportunities to make some of these professional connections might attend a residency interview with a mentor or student of one of their preceptors. It’s these valuable connections that our students can make with our preceptors.”
As one of eight pharmacy schools in New York state, Binghamton is one of only two publics to can draw students from the other schools. “While we have a pretty good handle on our local area, when our students want to go back home, the competition for clinical rotation sites can be intense,” Langett explained.
Setting up preceptor sites in other areas “can be delicate.”
“It’s a balance between trying to manage the student’s wishes and also keeping a collegial attitude,” she added. “We’re new in these other areas and competing with long-standing schools. It’s gotten easier as time has gone on and once our students go to a site, they are very well prepared. After a site has had one or two Binghamton students, they’ll come to us and say ‘we will make sure we have a hole in our schedule for you.’ Our students are great notetakers and great problem-solvers. Once a site has one of our students, they look forward to having more!”
Readying SOPPS students for their rotations falls, of course, on the shoulders of faculty and staff. “Because we’re so young a school, there’s a lot of vibrancy about it,” Langett said. “Many of our faculty are young and have a hunger to learn more and we also have faculty who can offer the historical view. Our students learn professional and soft skills, we have a fantastic skills lab and a lot of hands-on training and our students gain the ability to talk to others. Faculty are thinking of the students as a whole and that translates to them knowing how to work with their patients as well.”
Rotations are pass fail, but they give a sense to students of their progress. “The real purpose is that the students are in a new environment and learning something new,” Langett said. “We want them to be ready for If they were only one there, they would know what to do.”
Students are monitored during their rotations, with mid-point evaluations built in at the three-week mark.
“Any concerns will flag our Office of Experiential Education, and if a student receives too many, the preceptors will reach out to us and Nick (Schwier, assistant dean for experiential education and clinical associate professor) or Jessica (Isaac, downstate experiential coordinator and clinical assistant professor) will mediate and do what they can to make the student successful,” Langett said. “Sometimes it’s just different communication styles or the need for more structure. We very rarely have students fail rotations or even be on the cusp.”
Langett is also a go-to person for the students. “Because I do all of the initial schedule building and all of the background work, I’m the person to come to with questions,” she said. “Is there anything I can do to move something forward? Can you poke preceptor? Is there anything missing according to the contract? It can take a long time from when a student submits a site or finds a new site. Right now, we have 50 agreements somewhere in the process that I am managing. I’m the go-between for students, preceptors and legal. That is a good portion of my time.
“I have to be very organized and plan my days and weeks,” she said, “because a big part of my job is things I can’t plan for like students not having documents in on time, or car or financial aid issues, or family issues. Last-minute changes to sites can cost money, so I work with financial aid to help a student find additional funding or other options. Preceptors might go on medical leave.
“You just can’t plan for calls like that and are the things I have to hold room for in my day,” she concluded. “It’s never life and death, but if it’s a fire, I have to figure it out. Students get stressed and they’re in the home stretch trying to start their careers so everything feels big and important to them. I’m here to make sure they’re mental health and well-being is taken into account!”
Schwier, who has been with the SOPPS since May of 2022, added that he is constantly impressed by Langett’s ability to wear a myriad of hats in her role. “In her short time in the Office of Experiential Education, Marissa has played a vital part in ensuring the success of the office, and subsequently the SOPPS,” he said. “She is a guru at CORE ELMS, interfaces with many of our valued partners and preceptors and uses her master’s degree in education (from Binghamton University) to help with everything from student success to assessment of our experiential curriculum. I am truly blessed to have her in our office, especially helping me orient to the SOPPS and experiential/academic policies when I arrived.”